What Your Teachers Don’t Tell You About Life After University

May 2003. I had been counting down the days to graduation for four years, yet it seemed to sneak up on me so quickly. I would miss my friends and working at the school radio and TV stations, but the whole world was ahead of me. Eager employers were ready for the brightest and most ambitious university graduates. With my degree, I could expect to earn up to 75% more than people without a degree. In this day and age, if you want a good job, you will need a university education. These things I expected.

What I didn’t expect was the feeling of loss after my subsequent freedom. For my whole life, I knew just what to do: you go to elementary school, you go to high school, you go to college. No questions asked. Yet for the first time I stood before an unknown universe, wondering what I should do with my life. Where and how do I apply for a job? Is my resume good enough? Are there jobs available in my field? Should I start with an internship? How do I gain valuable out-of-school experience? So many questions faced me and I felt I had so few answers. After almost two years, I realized the ugly truth: there’s a plethora of things they simply DON’T teach you in school, and these may be the most important lessons.

1. Getting a job out of college is HARD!!!

You apply to fifty employers with your stunning grades, a multitude of extracurricular activities and eagerness to work. With some luck, one or two employers may call you back. It’s easy to find yourself feeling uber-frustrated and burnt-out after college. Many ex-students, such as myself, head into industries with high turnover rates (restaurants, bars, gas stations, sales, etc.) until something pops up in our fields. Why is it so difficult? Many employers are simply too busy to skim through your resume and actually respond. After all, they are bombarded with tons of new applicants. This will be a common sentiment you hear from your potential employers, one that you will surely be sick of hearing in a hurry. Or could it be that you’re lacking something vital – that dreaded “real world experience”?

2. “Real World Experience” is more important than what school you attended or what grades you achieved!

If you worked several internships while going to school full-time, you’re one of the lucky ones. Otherwise, employers scoff at your resume. They know that the university experience is like living and operating in a bubble, slightly out of touch with reality. Hypothetical situations cannot possibly compare to real-world situations. You can expect your first year out of school to be like one long internship unless you get started while you’re still in school. I hit up several brick-wall interview sessions before I realized the common theme: I would list my university achievements like a star and they’d look at me with a blank face and say, “Yeah? So what? What real world experience do you have?”

3. There isn’t a surplus of entry-level jobs.

I assumed that in the bustling world of business, there’d always be promotions, people moving up, people retiring, and new positions around the bottom opening up. But this is not necessarily the case. Granted every industry is different, but take for example General Motors. Last year in my dad’s section, two guys retired and two guys had heart attacks. Instead of hiring four new people to take over the empty positions, they gave four people’s responsibilities all to my dad, the maintenance manager/floor supervisor! This, in effect, means that no one will be moving up and no new entry level jobs will be open. In business, consolidation is becoming more and more prevalent. Don’t believe me? Then why was 2004 the fourth consecutive year of over one million layoffs? Xerox, Colgate, AOL-Time Warner, Cingular and United Airlines are among a few companies with massive layoffs this year. They represent many different industries, which leads me to believe that increasing healthcare and energy burdens are taking their toll on employers, which in turn affects recent grads.

4. You will not necessarily be making $20,000-30,000 a year as a recent graduate.

Get over it! This past year I was depressed to find that I had only made $12,000 at best. In fact, I don’t have any friends making upwards of $20,000. Of course, then again, most of my friends aren’t even working in their fields! Then there’s my boyfriend. He’s making $25,000 a year at a call center and he hasn’t even finished university yet. However, don’t get around to thinking your degree doesn’t matter at all. It is in fact a prerequisite for many top-level jobs. And unfortunately so is 3-5 years experience.

5. A teaching degree or a skilled trade is always a great thing to fall back on!

My parents told me in my freshman year, “Why not get an education degree as well? For a couple more credits, it’s a stable profession.” I scoffed at them. Why would I want to go through school my whole life just to go back? Now I wish I had taken their advice. Going back to school is much more complicated after you’ve taken some time off. You have to track down your old records, explain what you’ve been doing the last few years, find references, and get back into learning mode again! In Canada, skilled trades such as welding, painting, electrical apprenticing, carpentry, robotics, machinists and even website creation are vital professions in high demand. While shooting for your dream, you can surely get a steady job with benefits in these fields!

6. There are some websites that could help you a lot.

I know there are more best kept secrets out there, but I’d advise checking the labour board’s website (http://www.statcan.ca/start.html -) to see what the job market is like in your field so you can develop a realistic concept of what to expect. As for specifics, I hit up www.google.com hard after graduating to find communication and writing jobs. I also found my way onto www.workopolis. com (which is great because you can “Fast Track” your field and get tons of positions by job title) and www.flipdog.com. I set up automated job searches on many of these sites so every week I get mailed the freshest jobs in my field. Let’s face it: most of us are too busy to be running from employer to employer throughout the GTA to get applications and try to set up meetings.

7. You will MISS school!

It seems impossible at first. Who would miss lack of sleep, pop quizzes, 10 page papers, and choosing good grades over making money? You won’t notice it right away. But after a while, you’ll find yourself reading more books, scouring the newspapers and seeking out new friends and philosophies in a desperate attempt to keep learning. I’m forever fearful that my fertile mind will become stagnant from disuse. Life seemed so much simpler when you were back on course being told what to do.

While this may seem depressing to learn, don’t let it bog you down in your postgrad job hunt. Just be sure you take a quick reality check before graduating to ease the transitional shock. Take steps as early as your first year towards getting real-world experience and making goals for where to apply or where to live. Check jobsites frequently and see what’s going on in your field. As GI Joe said, “Knowing is half the battle!” After all, you want to fly easily out of university, instead of feeling like a baby bird pushed prematurely out of the nest!


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